Parking Enforcement, Private Parking and, of course, Covid


Parking Enforcement, Private Parking and, of course, Covid

So, another year starts and, sadly, we are still not done with this pestilence that blights all our lives. I am writing this over a month before you read it, but as of today the UK, and indeed much of the rest of Europe, is rapidly heading back into lockdown. 

I think that the most depressing thing that I read about this recently was written by a young doctor who is frantically trying to keep sick but treatable people alive in ambulances in the car park while her hospital’s ICU is filled with people who refused vaccines. Decisions have consequences, but when your decision kills other people, that’s wrong.

A few years ago, at PIE, one of your more thoughtful colleagues, I won’t name them, gave a very interesting presentation on autonomous vehicles. I disagreed with just about everything they said, and we had a very interesting conversation afterwards. Both of us were predicting the future, so there was no right or wrong.

 I felt strongly enough to challenge them to “put your money where your mouth is” and I bet them a whole ten of your Yankee dollars that there would be autonomous vehicles in use by the end of the decade. Well, Covid got in the way, but I was wrong on the timescale. You know who you are and I have your money ready for you the next time that we meet.

I was wrong, but not by much. In Abu Dhabi, where innovation is a way of life, the Department of Municipalities has just launched a pilot autonomous free taxi service, called robo-taxis or Txais. The mix of hybrid and all-electric vehicles can be summoned by an app to move passengers between popular locations on Yass Island, the newer, eastern part of the city. 

For now, the vehicles have an on-board “safety officer” as a backstop. However, it is clearly the intention to roll out the operation across the city. Knowing how this country does such things, I fully expect to see these vehicles in use across the city by the middle of the year and a rapid reduction in the number of “manned” taxis shortly thereafter. I suspect that “free to use” is just for the pilot. The only shortcoming that I can see at the moment is that, for the pilot anyway, the Txais only move between a set number of defined points. To fully replace the taxi service, it must be ubiquitous. 

I just love the Kindergarten level of thinking that goes into my government’s policy announcements. Over the last few months, I have mentioned the amount of work that I, and others have been putting into writing what, in effect, will become the new national design guide for car park design.

One of the big issues has been handling the potential need to accommodate EV charging. How many bays should have chargers, no one knows? Maybe 10 percent, 20 percent, 100 percent? Your guess is as good as mine. What is clear is that, although announcing that from 2030 no new cars should be petrol or diesel, the government has not thought about the required charging network at all. Well, that’s not strictly true. Why, just a few days ago the Prime Minister announced that new homes and buildings in England will be required by law to install electric vehicle charging points from this year. 

Of course, there was nothing on the cost of upgrading the national grid to accommodate this. Also, a tiny problem, not worth mentioning, really, what about the simple fact that most of the new build suburban houses up and down the land will be accommodating two-car families? Add to this, the government has already announced that, to reduce grid loading at peak times, home car chargers will automatically be switched off in the morning and evening peak periods, it all seems a bit, well half baked. 

On another subject, the government has decided to intervene again in the issues surrounding parking on private land. If you park on private land, whether you are allowed or not, everything was governed by civil law. If you’re not invited you trespass; if you don’t pay the fee due, it’s contract law and, this is important, it’s covered by civil law, and any dispute is between the parker and the land owner not the car owner. 

So, pretty hard to actually do anything. Then along came wheel clamps, but of course, operators got greedy and abused the opportunity, so the government outlawed them and put in place a bodged-up half-baked labyrinthine system of parking tickets where car owners became ultimately responsible. 

Once again, operators got greedy and started charging stupid amounts bearing no relationship to any loss they incurred. The government made various pronouncements and initiatives to sort this out. Hot air. So, now, their cunning plan is to regulate the value of this “private” ticket. Only trouble is the sum they envisage is likely to be less than the cost of a day’s parking in many places. 

Perhaps Kindergarten is being generous? 

The law in Britain changed in 1991 to remove the responsibility for parking enforcement from the Police and give it to municipalities. The new regime started in London and has progressively rolled out to the rest of the country. In 2004, the law was again changed to allow the Councils to also take on other minor infringements, like making a banned turn. 

Again, this started in London and now, after a long delay, the new powers are finally being extended nationwide. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing. It does seem overkill to have a fully trained Police officer to write up a simple ticket especially when they are under so much pressure, but Police have discretion. If a British policeman sees a minor traffic infringement, they can make a judgement between a telling off and perhaps a little roadside education, which might be just as effective, more so if the relevant signs are hidden behind a bush. 

A council worker, or more likely a contractor on a productivity incentive, looking at a CCTV camera, works in black and white. Everything is ticketed, and if the sign is hidden or missing, the driver has to prove that they are innocent, which is bad law, and bad PR.

One of the issues that we have had to deal with in doing the new book is the ever-increasing size of cars and, indeed, their drivers! Cars are getting longer, wider, even more so with EVs, and heavier. Further, doors are getting thicker as more and more things are put into them. 

Added to this, people are getting fatter, so bigger people are trying to squeeze in and out through smaller gaps. Long story short, we are proposing that in new car parks bays should be about 12 percent wider and about 4 percent longer. Of greater concern though, is the weight. 

Cars, especially electric vehicles, are a lot heavier than the vehicles that they replace; so much so that vehicles like electric Range Rovers exceed the design limits of older car parks. It seems inevitable that looking forwards, older car parks will have to post a weight limit and may have to put in place technology to check-weigh vehicles before they are allowed to come in. Otherwise, the car parked on the second floor may well end up on the ground floor.

Article contributed by:
Peter Guest
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